Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Writing - Are subscription libraries an option?

More library 'stuff' and some interesting aspects of which I wasn't aware.

Image result for Bromley House Library
Bromley House Library

In the days before public libraries, people paid for the privilege of borrowing books. But with council-run libraries experiencing a decline in users and many closing, those that require membership are seeing their numbers rise. So what exactly is the draw of the subscription library?
Nestled on a high street near a charity shop, newsagent and chicken restaurant is an exclusive library that - even after 200 years - is unknown to most.
Sitting behind the doors of a three-storey Grade II-listed Georgian house in Nottingham city centre are shelves and shelves stacked high with books, some dating back to the 16th Century.
Bromley House Library has become a little haven in a busy city, but unlike most libraries, you have to pay to use it.

The first committee in 1816 was made up of three clergymen, a banker and two doctors with a strict set of rules and hefty fines for those who broke them.
Becoming a member then would have set you back five guineas for a share (equivalent to about £550 today) and two guineas a year thereafter.
Today, an annual subscription is £96, without the need to buy shares.
Among its collection are rare history manuscripts and 16th Century material, as well as modern literature, travel books and biographies.

Subscription libraries - a history

  • Subscription libraries were also known as proprietors' libraries because members owned shares in them
  • With the passing of the Public Libraries Act in 1850, most were replaced or taken over by local government and opened free of charge to the public
  • The Leeds Library opened in 1768 and is the oldest surviving subscription library of its kind in the UK
  • The first one in Britain was the Leadhills Miners Library in Lanarkshire, which was started in 1741 by 21 miners, a minister and schoolmaster. They had an entrance fee which was the equivalent of 15p (£16 in today's terms) and the annual subscription was 10p (about £10)
  • The most expensive of the UK's subscription libraries today is the Liverpool Athenaeum, where a Category A membership costs £795 a year
Image result for Oldest subscription Library Leeds
Oldest subscription library (opened 1768)

Of course there are many examples of 'little libraries' to be found in a variety of places.

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The picture above is not the same one that I visited but I have been to a pub in England that was offering books as well as drinks. People who don't like drinking alone would find that place very comfortable.

The private club that I am a member of has its own small collection of books as well as newspapers available for drinkers to peruse at their leisure. I have also stayed in many an hotel that provide books for the guests to read on particularly rainy days.

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Of course there are many homes around the world that have their own private libraries. Whilst holidaying in France some years ago a gang of us hired a gites for a couple of weeks near Carcassonne in southern France. The party was large so we needed a large property and booked through a firm that specialised in special gites. Ours was Louis XIV through and through, had its own library and separate chapel and more. The library was delightful.

In fact it is public libraries that are the important issue. We need to be aware of these havens of peace, tranquillity and learning, and make every effort to support them staying open.

God Bless